Trekking Apu Ausangate


Ausangate is a mountain about 60 miles (100km) east of the old Inca capital of Cusco, Peru. Extending up to almost 21,000 feet (6,384m) with lots of snow and glaciers, it’s a pretty prominent part of the landscape.

A circuit around the mountain is 45 miles (72km) and used to be a pilgrimage route for the Inca, who viewed Ausangate as sacred. The trail is fairly well marked. I never once had to take out my map, though I did make extensive use of the GPS function on my phone along with the Maps.Me app. That app has the route in the free downloadable Peru map set, and fit the actual trail perfectly.


Ausangate as viewed from the trail.

Hiking the route solo seems pretty atypical, though I did it by myself without pack animals and had no problems. Most people hire transport to cut off 15 miles (25km) from the beginning and end of the hike, and also have mules carry all of their belongings. They generally do this shorter route in 4 or 5 days, though carrying all of my belongings I managed quite well in 2.5 days. The main difficulty is elevation; the trail rarely goes below 15,000 feet (4570m) with multiple passes up to 17,000 feet (5180m).

The area is inhabited by alpaca farmers. There are many hundreds of alpacas along the route, and the pastoral herders are quite friendly. Their first language is Quechua, but they speak passable Spanish.


The loop starts and ends at Tinqui, a small village with a few restaurants and basic hotels three hours east of Cusco. It used to be a seven to eight hour bus ride, but the recent completion of the Interoceanic Highway linking Peru and São Paulo has made the trip possible in less than half the previous time. Buses cost $3 and leave approximately every 45 minutes from the Paradero Livitaca, a very basic (and tiny) bus terminal near the old stadium. It’s visible on Google Maps, and taxis from the old town cost a little less than $2 for the ten minute ride. The sign in front may say Ocongate, which is a larger town 15 minutes before Tinqui, but they almost all continue on to and terminate at Tinqui.

Day 1

From Tinqui a dirt road leads up towards the mountain. The glaciers and permanent snowpack of the 21k foot mountain make it fairly easy to discern, and since there’s only one road navigation isn’t difficult. There are signs marking the way to Upis, the first village in the counterclockwise direction.


Walking through Tinqui, the village where the loop begins and ends.


I did the route counterclockwise, so I started going towards Upis and came back via Pacchanta.

It’s a fairly gradual climb up away from Tinqui, passing by fields of crops and livestock. There’s a fee of $3 for the hike, which should be the only fee for the trip though herders may ask for something for crossing their land.


Heading towards the mountain. The clouds are growing fairly ominous, though it often rains in the afternoon here.

The trail leaves the road and jolts to the right along a footpath through a narrow valley populated by alpacas and older herdswomen. The dark clouds gave way to a light rain for about 30 minutes. I just walked on through it.

Once the rain stopped I arrived at the Upis campground, which is just an open field with an outhouse. At 1pm it seemed like most people had already stopped for the day, maybe because the sun disappeared for half an hour. You can camp pretty much anywhere in the area, which along with rain seems for some reason to really disturb most hikers in South America. Many of them refuse to hike in the rain, and will stay in their tent all day to avoid it.


Alpacas on the way towards the Upis campground. I kept on going and decided to tackle the pass since it was only 1pm.


Leaving the campground for the pass, which is around the corner on the right.


Around the time I got too close to an alpaca herd and the herd dog let me know. Throwing rocks at it kept it at bay.

The rain seemed to hold off until I got farther down, and I was glad not to have to deal with a thunderstorm at the pass. I could hear the thunder but never saw any lightning.


The first pass, Arapa. I didn’t stay long because of the thunder and approaching storm.

At 5:15pm, with the sun below the ridge and the darkness rapidly enveloping everything, I opted to set up camp. It was my first time setting up my new tent, having shipped it to my father who brought it with him when he visited me in Argentina (tents in South America are three times the weight, twice the cost, and really shitty, so I decided to just buy an American one). Setting it up in a thunderstorm was far from ideal, but it was pretty easy to figure out. And it kept me dry, which is what really matters!

I decided to go without a stove for this trip, so I just sat in my tent eating crackers and waiting out the long 12 hour night. I woke up around 11pm to see some small dog-like creature inches from my face outside the mesh of my tent, and was glad I´d brought all my food and belongings inside the nylon.

Like on the PCT, I just slept with my food (although unlike on the PCT I slept inside a tent). Except for grizzly bears and animals in high-use areas used to people, everything is usually terrified of humans and won´t approach food if you´re touching it.

Day 2

Waking up, I opened my tent flap to find a great view of Ausangate in the clear dawn skies. Visibility was nil when I set up my tent in the deserted alpaca grazing grounds, but now it was shaping up to be a phenomenally clear day.

My 10F/-12C sleeping bag, which served me so well in the Arctic, kept me warm throughout the night. It must´ve gotten below freezing, since when I awoke my tent was covered in ice.


I lost the trail here in the early morning, having to backtrack a bit and cross the lake outlet to get to the other side.

With socks on my hands to protect them from the cold, I hurriedly packed up all my things, shook the ice from my tent, and headed off.

Some alpaca herding dogs stopped me from going into the next valley, but my trekking poles and some rocks stopped them from biting me. My break by a stream in the hills above the valley was abruptly cut off when the alpaca herd appeared around the corner emerged and stopped, just staring at me. It was a little surreal seeing dozens of alpacas appear and just stare at me en masse, but I knew the demon dogs from hell would be there soon. I crammed all my stuff into my pack and zoomed away as fast as I could at 16k feet (4900m) and headed toward the next pass. This hike was basically pass hopping punctuated by valleys filled with alpacas and their evil herd dogs.

I lost the trail heading down toward the next valley, but somehow managed to get down a steep hillside without slipping in alpaca dung. The woman tending the herd demanded $3 for crossing her land, which I argued over before finally paying. It almost certainly wasn´t official, but I had just terrorized her flock by walking through it and the fee was pretty minimal.

A German hiker came from the other end of the valley and passed me while I took a break. He´d just come from the Rainbow Mountain, a popular day trip from Cusco that gets many hundreds of visitors each afternoon. I´d opted to skip it since I was concerned about my first hike at a sustained high elevation, and wasn´t sure exactly where it was. I wanted to make my first hike in Peru as easy as reasonably possible.

“Maybe we’ll see each other in a while!” the guy called as he left. After 20 minutes I finished my break and almost immediately passed him while he huffed his way up towards the pass.

“This is the last pass, and it’s all downhill from here! Only 30km more,” he panted. I just smiled, knowing that there was another pass after this one and that his distance was quite off (though he might have been taking a taxi from the last village to the highway, which cuts off a few hours and is common; but his mileage was still pretty off). I decided against crushing his dreams with reality.

The pass was beautiful albeit cold and windy, so I didn’t stay very long.


My view during the break I took below the pass, in a more sheltered site.

I passed hundreds of alpaca on my way down the valley, and was accosted by five snarling dogs near a hut. They startled me, and though most of them seemed friendly one tried to lunge at me. Throwing rocks at it, I saw a woman come out and run towards me. I think she wanted money or to sell me something, but recognized that in the midst of avoiding the teeth of her dogs was not a good time to beg. This was the last time dogs were an issue for me on the trek.


The valley below the pass.


There’s a group of trekkers, with horses hired to carry all their things, to the left of the photo. They let their horses roam after setting up camp.


The next and last pass is up ahead around the corner on the left. I camped before it in the hopes of climbing the pass in the morning.

The trail followed a stream through a picturesque, verdant valley. One of the dogs from the hut followed me and seemed to want food, which I didn’t give it. I figured mint cream crackers and dry ramen weren’t good for some aging alpaca dog. There was nobody in the valley other than some guy who I’m fairly sure saw me while I was going to the bathroom. Turns out I wasn’t as alone as I thought.


My campsite the second and last night. Since it was getting dark I decided to wait until morning to tackle the pass, not wanting to be caught at night at high elevation without a sheltered campsite.

Day 3

Going up to the pass took more time than it would have at lower elevation, but at the top I had cell service and chatted with my brothers about topics that will not be addressed here. It was the highest I’d ever been in my life, 17k feet (5180m), and was amazing.


A panorama of the last high pass.

The descent through the last valley was easy, and I quickly passed some hikers that had hired mules to carry all their belongings. They must’ve been the ones camped with the horses the night prior.

As I got closer to Tinqui I saw more and more people, including a woman who was way too old to be begging for candy. One young girl rushed out to show me her orange and white kitten, which really did not want to be in her grasp, and was satisfied when I told her it was incredibly adorable.

A hailstorm lasted 40 minutes, which I walked through while listening to BBC podcasts. Making good time, I decided to continue all the way back to the highway and catch a bus back to Cusco.

Tierra del Fuego

Map of Tierra del Fuego.

An archipelago at the southernmost extreme of South America, Tierra del Fuego isn’t the easiest place to reach. However, with the relatively recent tourism boom it’s become quite manageable with daily connections by air, boat, and bus in summer. 

Bus to Ushuaia, Argentina from Punta Arenas, Chile.

Although Chile controls over 60% of the region, the Argentine side is much more developed and populated. This is all quite relative since the megalopolis of Ushuaia, famed as the “southernmost city in the world,” is home to only about 57,000 permanent residents. 

Boarding the boat to cross the Straits of Magellan into Tierra del Fuego. The latter isn’t connected by land to the mainland.

Ushuaia is pretty touristy, though for good reason: its location on the Beagle Channel, surrounded by snowy mountains and within easy visibility of Chile, is awesome. In recent years, as Antarctica becomes an increasingly popular cruise destination, Ushuaia’s port has become fairly busy. This is the departure point for almost all Antarctic cruises, which makes sense considering it’s only 700 miles (1100km) to the southern continent. Buenos Aires is over twice as far from Ushuaia.

Trekking the Sierra Valdivieso

Looking across the waterlogged valley.

Drying out my shoes after a stream crossing.

I came here to hike the surrounding Fuegian Andes, and began with the Sierra Valdivieso Circuit. The vast majority of walkers seem to do it counterclockwise, though I did it in the reverse. If I’d done it in the more traditional direction I doubt I would’ve seen anyone. Not that my meeting two other groups of trekkers in four days is a sign of crowding. 

The first time I’ve ever seen a skull marking a route. Navigating was pretty easy even without a marked trail most of the way.

The first two days were fairly cloudy.

The Circuit is almost entirely unmarked, though after doing even more remote treks in the Icelandic tundra I didn’t find navigation to be terribly difficult. What was difficult was navigating what I dubbed Beaver Dam Hell on the first day, where I was up to my waist in ponds fighting through thorn bushes.

Heading up into more alpine terrain.

The sun finally came out!

I had a very short day in the hopes of having clear weather over the pass. It worked.

The ground was pretty waterlogged at the beginning, largely because of the invasive beavers introduced from Canada, with water almost consistently at or above my ankles. 

Clear weather on the pass, with some guanacos visible. Guanacos are native cousins of camels.

Looking for a way down to the not visible valley.

There’s a faint impression of a trail here. Probably means it’s the easiest, driest route.

My home the last night on the trail.

Back on the Trail

I returned to the mountains to do a two day route through a less visited corner of Tierra del Fuego National Park. After getting directions from some local farmers, I was able to find the trailhead with a bit of difficulty. 

I woke up the next morning to a partially frozen water bottle, but I survived.

There’s a tiny owl on the signpost, barely visible in the photo.

Laguna Superior.

Looking back toward the Beagle Channel.

Meandering through the forest on a marked trail.

Argentina to Chile on Foot – Part 2

Day 3

Unlike the trail I’ve just done, where you can camp almost anywhere, you’re only allowed to spend the night by the hut halfway to the Chilean border. I won’t have enough time after that to get to the border, so I’m…free! I only have a few hours of walking today, and I won’t make the boat in time the next day, so my schedule is now very relaxed.

While I’m enjoying the January sun, a dog comes up and abruptly licks my face. It goes rigid and stares off into the woods, where a herd of horses runs out of the woods and towards me. I immediately stand up and try to get away, but the dogs and gaucho shepherding them keep them away from me.


On the way to the hut at Paso de las Nubes (Cloud Pass).

The trail meanders along a stream for a while, and it’s weird seeing other people on the trail. Only a few are out here, but this trail is definitely more popular than the last one. We ascend up and up and up to the Paso de las Nubes (Cloud Pass), with the Rocca Hut and an expansive view of glaciated Mount Tronador.

For $9, you can camp outside the hut and use all the facilities. The hut is heated, powered, and has running water with real toilets! It’s heavenly. A high school girl gets really excited at the opportunity to practice English with a real live native speaker, and we chat for a while while staring out the window at the glaciers and waterfalls. I get a little bored, missing the thru hiking lifestyle of camping anywhere and running yourself into exhaustion each day.

I don’t sleep well that night. I don’t think I drank enough water in the evening, and I get very irritable while dehydrated. I fret over everything that has and could go wrong, which isn’t exactly conducive to good sleep.

Day 4
The next morning I berate myself, as always, for worrying during the night about things that have sensible solutions.


Very different from the high and dry passes in Argentina.

From the hut I descend steeply to the valley floor, and it’s evident I’m in a rainforest now. I usually listen to music or podcasts while I walk, a habit I picked up on my 2600 mile Mexico to Canada hike in 2015. It helps break up the monotony and lets my mind wander. I eschew my earbuds now in favor of listening to the sounds of the rainforest, lost in my own little world. I’m damp, sweaty, and caked in mud with a bad odor but I wouldn’t trade this for anything else.

At Puerto Frías the trail ends at a lake. There are just two buildings there: Argentine customs and what I think is a national park office. The border guard post is empty, but after a few minutes I see a boat approaching on the lake. A bunch of tourists pile out on their way to Chile by bus, led by the border guards.

“Can I help you?” Inquires an older woman.

“I’m walking from Argentina to Chile, and I need an exit stamp,” I reply. She looks at first like she doesn’t believe me, but after looking at my pack and how disheveled I am she seems to accept it.

“It’s a long walk from Pampa Linda!”

“I actually started in Colonia Suiza, just outside of Bariloche,” I correct her, not sure if it’s necessary for their records. My hike is much longer than what they originally thought. She and the border guards obviously think I’m a crazy gringo, but they put me first in line and within seconds I’m stamped out of Argentina.


The view as I climb out of Argentina.

I drop off my hiking registration at the national park office, which seems unsure what to do with it. Hopefully they don’t call a search and rescue on me. They take my passport to look for my exit stamp, but are unable to find it amidst the cyrillic scribbles from obscure Eastern European border crossings. I show them my pages of Argentina and Chile stamps and they wish me luck.


Welcome to Chile!

It’s only 40 minutes climbing to the Chilean border, but 18 miles/30km to the border station at Peulla. Leaving around noon, I know I won’t be able to make the 4:30pm daily boat across Lago Todos los Santos back to the Chilean road system. The road from Puerto Frías in Argentina to Lago Todos los Santos in Chile just goes from lake to lake. There’s no access to the outside world and nothing else in between, except for a few farms just outside the Chilean border post. Thus, the only vehicles there are a bus that ferries tourists from lake to lake, border guards, and a guy in a truck transporting goods that I see every few hours.

I stop around 7pm on a rocky platform overlooking a river, but get an inexplicable vibe of uneasiness and opt to keep on going. After less than an hour I find a perfect campsite, but something smells weird…and then I notice the rotting corpse of what might have once been a cow or horse. Yeah, let’s not deal with pumas tonight, I think to myself. Going 20 more minutes down the flat gravel road I walk into the thick rainforest, where the undergrowth seems to be less dense than before, and set up my tent out of sight of the road. Which, because it’s a rainforest, is less than 10 meters away.

Day 5

Last night’s sleep was amazingly restful, and I immediately start walking. Based on the GPS on my phone, I’m less than a couple hours from the border station.


Mount Tronador and the sign for the border police. I went and talked to an officer, a very friendly grandfatherly old man, just to let them know I was in the area. He didn’t seem too concerned.

There aren’t even any aggressive dogs trying to stop me from trespassing on their territory, and it’s an easy couple of hours to the border station just outside town.


Getting closer to town.

“Got any fresh fruit or animal products?” I show him my food back to make sure I’m following Chile’s strict importation guidelines meant to protect their environment.

“You sure that’s it?” Oh god they’re going to search through my entire bag. I’m not hiding anything, but all my stuff is so filthy and it’ll take a while.

“Okay, I’ll take your word on it,” and then he gives me my entry stamp and Chilean tourist visa slip, which I have to save until I leave the country. Every time you cross between Chile and Argentina you’re given a new 90 day visa, so I don’t have any issues staying here for six months like I did in the European Union.


Lago Todos los Santos, the end of the hike and departure point for the ferry to the Chilean road system.

Argentina to Chile on Foot – Part 1


I found this in Puerto Montt, a Chilean working class town I visited just to catch the bus to Argentina. I have no idea what it is, but it scared me a little.

Day 0

Argentina’s Nahuel Huapi National Park came up next on my list, with my plans for hiking further north in Chile having been dashed by the fires. It was getting too hot there, anyways. Time to go to cooler altitudes and/or latitudes.

The park is known for mountain passes with amazing vistas, glaciers, and the striking Mount Tronador on the Chilean border. The Nahuel Huapi Traverse is probably the most popular route, hopping from valley to valley and hut to hut, but I opted for a less frequented (and supposedly much more rugged) trail: Colonia Suiza to Pampa Linda, then walking over the Paso de las Nubes to Chile and taking a two hour ferry across a lake to the road.

Mount Tronador as seen from a mountain pass on the trail.

After a Bariloche steak dinner ($11 in total, which seemed super expensive, but I now realize the same thing would be much more in the US), I stopped by the Club Andino to get some more info.


Trailhead at Colonia Suiza. It took me a little less than 48 hours to get to Pampa Linda.

“You want a map?? Okay…but it’ll cost $6.” Um, yes I do want a map and that’s totally a reasonable price. Call me old fashioned, but I tend to like to know where I am and where I’m going. I had the route’s GPS coordinates in my phone, but you can’t rely on electronics.

While waiting for the bus to the trailhead, which never came, I gave up and decided to just sleep in a campground 4km from town. It was getting late, and I could try again the next day. I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep with all the noise of a campground, but the next thing I knew I had woken up from a 10 hour slumber.

Day 1

It turns out the info on the Bariloche website for getting to Colonia Suiza is incorrect. What a surprise from a government website! You have to take bus number 20, which leaves every 20 minutes, to the roundabout at kilometer 18. Tell the driver you’re heading to Colonia Suiza and he’ll charge you for the whole trip, which should cost under $2 and is cheaper than paying separately. He’ll then announce when you should get off, after which you transfer to the number 10. The latter leaves every hour on the half hour from the roundabout.

Colonia Suiza is just a collection of campgrounds and little shacks selling meals at the end of a dirt road. The bus dropped me off less than a 10 minute walk to the trailhead, where I lounged for a while and had breakfast.
Ambling up through the gentle grade of the forest I ran into a young Argentinian couple I’d chatted a while with on my first hike a few weeks ago near El Bolsón, a few hours south of here. They’d spent the night at the hut just ahead of me, which seems to be a popular overnight trip.

The red Refugio Italia as viewed from the trail.

There was a sign saying to register at the hut, but when I went there nobody seemed interested so I just continued. After the hut the number of people dropped dramatically, and the route involved a lot of scrambling up and down rock faces with ropes. Not that easy with a full pack! The trail went up steeply to passes and then plunged back down below the tree line to valleys with forested trails overgrown with trees, and towards the end of the day I found it dead ended into the lake. I walked in the shallow water on the lake’s edge to rejoin the trail, after which I dried my soaked shoes and socks in the dying sun and cooked on my tiny butane canister stove.


The trail just ends at the lake, so I walked in the shallow water on the edge.

Back in Iceland I would pack out hotdogs for my first night of camping. Hotdogs in Iceland are cheap and ubiquitous, and the tradition seems to have followed me to Patagonia. It’s a nice treat for the first night, and I just boil them for five minutes. After eating crackers all day it’s a delicacy.

The pass loomed above me. It’s to the west, so once I get up there I would have more sunlight descending, I thought to myself. I pack up all my things from dinner and hike on.

The trail is difficult to follow, but with the map and GPS file on my phone I’m able to manage it. It’s steep, but once I get above the marshy tree line I can see the pass and make my own way.

At the top I’m tired, and not entirely sure the route down. The wind isn’t that strong nor is it that cold, so I opt to camp right on the pass. The ground isn’t firm enough for my tent stakes to stay down, so I weigh them with rocks and fall asleep.

Day 2

At 3am I jolt awake, disoriented and cocooned in fabric. There are creatures jumping over me, and they trapped me in a sack! my panicked mind screams. When I come to my senses I realize my tent has collapsed in a windstorm, and no kidnapping bears are dancing over me. I can’t find all the tent stakes, which scattered when my tent fell down, and decide to just wrap myself back up in the tent and go back to sleep. I can find the stakes in the morning, when it’s light and I have my contacts in. It starts to rain, but I’m too tired to care.

I awake at 8am, later than I’d like. It’s cold, but my water thankfully  hasn’t frozen. After putting my contacts in I find the last of my tent stakes within 15 seconds. Putting on all my layers, with socks over my hands to act as gloves, I hurriedly pack up all my stuff and hustle down the pass.

The route isn’t well marked, and I realize I have to reach into my pack to get my phone. But it’ll take a minute to power on, and I’m COLD and it’s WINDY. FUCK THIS TRAIL, AND FUCK ARGENTINA! I scream. I realize that won’t help, so I get out my phone and easily find the route.


Looking down into the valley.

It leads across yet another pass, not into the valley that I had thought. After a couple hours of hiking I pull out my sleeping bag by a stream and crawl inside while I yard sale all my gear on the rocks to dry. Filtering water, I see two people below me in their campsite. I don’t know if they can see me, but I watch them for a while. Just to make sure they’re okay. Soon they’re up heading towards the next pass.


Selfie over the abyss.

I catch them fairly quickly. They’re from American Samoa, down in Patagonia for two months. We talk for a while about their hikes, and I get more info about the best way to head south. I’m meeting my cousin in Argentina on February 6th and 7th, and after that I’m taking five weeks to go down to Tierra del Fuego. But there’s so much to see and hike along the way.


The trail goes up there…somewhere.

They get cold and I head on, climbing over and descending the next pass. It’s seemingly near vertical, and going down takes a long time while I try not to contemplate the vertiginous abyss below me. I get lost at the bottom, but after a while find my way back to the route.

At a lake before the next climb I finish my book, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy. It’s about the lives of defectors from North Korea who now live in South Korea, and the difficult adjustments they face. I spend most of my breaks reading, and in town usually load up lots of new books onto my kindle.


Looking back from where I came.


These passes have some pretty nice views.


The lake is so blue!

Ascending this next time is easy, because it’s up a slab of granite that hasn’t eroded as much as the other slopes. I’m able to run up this one, then enjoy the vistas at the top. *My last ascent!* I excitedly realize as I look at the elevation profile for the next part of the hike. It’s all downhill from here.

Back below the tree line I meander through forests, and the trail seems to be better maintained. There are some people by the lake, but my misanthropy takes control and I decide to keep going. I quickly cook a ramen dinner and am back on the route, camping just out of sight of the trail. I could’ve continued to Pampa Linda, but I’d have to camp in a campground. There will be lots of people and noise, so the forest is a much better place.


Getting closer and closer to Mount Tronador.


Leaving the higher passes to head back down to the green valley.

Day 3

In the morning I’m woken up by the screaming of cows, which is a little strange. I don’t want to get up because it’s cold, but I have to go to the bathroom. The latter ends up winning and I put on all my layers, rush out, then jump back into my -12C sleeping bag.

Eventually, at 8am, I muster up the courage to hit the trail. My latest start on the PCT from camping on trail was 8am, which seemed ungodly late. I just couldn’t get myself out of my tent that day, and instead spent a couple hours reading some ridiculously awful gay Amish romance novel that was circulating the hiker community.

Out here, 8am is ungodly early for most people. Then again, I’m pretty atypical in that I hike more than 2 hours a day. I much prefer getting up early and walking until sunset. If I’m not tired out from walking all day, then I don’t sleep as well. Old PCT habits die hard.

After a very steep descent the trail levels off, and then crosses a river. Knowing my shoes and socks will dry fast in the sun, I just walk across it like normal. In Iceland I did the same thing during a storm, which made German hikers yell at me to take off my pants first (still not really sure what that was about).

This river was much more peaceful (read: I haven’t seen a single human yet today), and I meander on over to the ranger office in Pampa Linda. There’s really nothing there besides the office and a campground, and after checking in with the ranger I lay all my stuff out to dry in the sun.

La Araucanía, Chile

Buying a bus ticket in South America can be a bit of an ordeal, but in larger towns with a terminal it’s less of a hassle. Rather than have various offices and points of sale scattered throughout the town, Argentina’s Bariloche terminal has a dozen or so different companies and conglomerates lined up alongside each other. Because each kiosk doesn’t display easily visible timetables (if they have any at all), and there’s no centralized site online with every company’s routes and times of departure, it can be an adventure.


Buenos Aires’s chaotic Retiro bus terminal, which is reminiscent of a war zone.

My Lonely Planet guidebooks for Argentina and Chile, although outdated, have lists of which companies go where from each town and serve as an excellent start. Looking online at various company websites, I found a convenient bus over the Andes to Chile that didn’t leave at an ungodly early hour. About $31 from Vía Bariloche, a reputable company about which I haven’t heard too many stories of sudden breakdowns in the jungle, the six hour ticket to Chile’s Puerto Varas was easy to purchase.

Entering Chile is a bit more of a process than going into Argentina, as the former has strict importation guidelines on agricultural products (read: no meat, vegetables, or fruit). While border formalities for entering Argentina can take a few minutes for an entire busload, in Chile it’s often much longer. But the sniffer dog’s habit of repeatedly running off into the woods, and bringing along random pieces of luggage taken from the inspection pile in an attempt to play fetch, provided entertainment.


It’s pretty easy to swap out SIM cards while crossing from country to country. Data costs about 40 cents a day, and the card allowing you access to the network is free or only a couple bucks. You can recharge the pay-as-you-go plan in lots of different places, like supermarkets or newspaper stands. When I asked for a smaller SIM card for my phone, the attendant just said “no problem” and got out a pair of scissors. Apparently in the US they frown very heavily upon that.

Entering Chile was a bit of a shock with a sudden onset of well paved roads and a lack of the general “Berlin 1945” feel you get everywhere in Argentina. The bus dropped me off 4km south of Puerto Varas on the highway, which wasn’t a terrible walk into town. Though next time I’ll pick a company that has a dropoff point in the settlement.


Walking to Puerto Varas around 9pm.

Disclaimer: Sweden is my favorite country I’ve ever visited, up there with Albania, Croatia, and Colombia, but Chile is quickly rising on that list. Puerto Varas is touristy, but the Swedish hostel I stayed at was lovely and the town is quite nice. Touristy towns in Chile don’t seem to have the “tourist trap” feel of Bariloche.

I spent a full day in town before heading up north to the Araucanía, Chile’s poorest and most heavily native region. Still, Chile is probably Latin America’s most developed country and the region seems more prosperous than just about anywhere in its eastern neighbor.


The beach of Pucón, my base for hikes in the Araucanía, with the Villarrica volcano visible in the background. Pucón is touristy, but still fairly pleasant.

My first hiking excursion in Chile was to Huerquehue National Park, known for being easily reached by public transit and having pretty lakes. At 50km (31 miles) round trip, the hike from the entrance to geothermal pools just outside the park was steep in places but overall not terribly demanding. I have to admit the scenery wasn’t comparable to other parks in the region, but soaking in the hot springs at the end of the day was quite nice.

Back in Pucón I went to the Villarrica National Park office to talk to the rangers about trail conditions on the popular 80km (50 mile) Villarrica Traverse. Because of the previous mild winter snow is not an issue, and the ranger gave me a map of the trail plus transit info (there really is none other than hitchhiking and a bus at the end that leaves once a day at 5pm).


The ski center, a pretty lonely place in summer but very close to the start of the Villarrica Traverse.

Rather than hitchhike the 20km (12 miles) up somewhat steep gravel roads, I decided to lengthen my first day and walk it all the way from Pucón. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful summer day, so why not? I’ve heard it’s an easy hitch, though. A little over halfway up I reached the Villarrica National Park entrance station, where I paid the entrance fee ($11, includes all camping costs) and registered my hike with the enthusiastic rangers.

“Now, son,” the ranger told me, “make sure you don’t drink that ash water on your first day. You’ll have so many bowel issues that…” He went on in vivid detail that seemed a little unnecessary, but he did give me useful up to date info on water conditions. Very important stuff on such a dry trail.

At the river, the last water source for some time and my campsite for the first night, a Chilean English teacher who carried everything in bags seemed to be forcing two friends of his on a death march that they really did not want to be on. He seemed mystified by my map, which I offered him since the entrance ranger had given me an extra. He said I could have some marijuana in return, but I declined while he and his friends walked somewhere off in the distance to collect 9 liters from a different water source. I had no trouble filtering the volcanic ash water with my physical filter, and promptly passed out.

I ran into the miserable Chileans later on in the hike, when the one who was actually in shape asked me to tell his straggling friends that he’d gone off to look for cell phone service. “I really need this to call for a ride back into town, I can’t believe there’s no service out here!” What did you expect in a remote valley surrounded by snowcapped mountains?!

I left them to their fate (I heard later on they weren’t at the same spot the next morning, so hopefully they’re not dead in a ditch somewhere) and hiked all the way up to a viewpoint covered in loose volcanic material. Because it was windy and I was tired, I just laid out my sleeping bag on the ash. Watching the sun dip below the Andes and the stars come out, I like to imagine I was looking at the southern cross. But I really have no idea and admittedly did fail the astronomy merit badge at scout camp. I had cell service, but turned it off. It’s nice to be disconnected.


The weird Martian landscape in one of the valleys.

Rather than rush to finish up the hike, I decided to take it at a slower pace of no more than 25km (15 miles) a day, something I couldn’t really do on the Pacific Crest Trail with a marathon-a-day pace. A Canadian couple I met along the trail would power through the day and arrive at camp by 1pm or so, and invited me to camp with them each night. It was nice having someone to talk to in English, and they let me scan pages from their out of print and sacred Lonely Planet Guide to Trekking in the Patagonian Andes. There’s really no decent guidebook for trekking in Patagonia, so I often have to rely on blogs and national park offices for info on planning this trip. Definitely a big difference from hiking in Europe and New Zealand!


Descending into a valley with more water and greenery.

The Villarrica Traverse is supposedly popular, but other than the Canadians I wouldn’t see hardly anybody else attempting the entirety of the main stretch. The solitude was nice, though near dirt roads leading to regional highways we’d see a fair amount of locals. One such group kept asking me about the prices of random everyday objects in the US, which was a bit bizarre. At least they weren’t trying to convince me of some weird conspiracy theories involving the CIA and a mysterious, shadowy corporation that controls all the news media outlets like I’d often hear in Argentina, where the politicians have become adept at blaming most of their problems on foreign countries (and don’t forget about the great patriotic war for the liberation of the Falklands from the military dictator Margaret Thatcher, leader of the third world impoverished nation of England).


A panorama of a particularly nice viewpoint.


Waiting for the Canadians at a rest stop on the highway to Argentina, heading towards the extension hike.

The trail dips for 15 minutes into Argentina, though luckily we didn’t have to go through border control. I wouldn’t have even known I was in Argentina if it weren’t for the GPS points of the trail I’d loaded into my phone for navigation backup. The Canadians and I decided to do a 25km (15 mile) extension of the Villarrica Traverse, which involved a 2km (1.2 mile) walk along the highway to a barely discernable trailhead by a bridge.


A panorama of the extension hike, with Lanín volcano and Argentina’s Volcán Lanín National Park on the other side. I wasn’t able to go to the latter because of weather a couple weeks ago, so I was glad to finally visit it from the much less frequented Chilean side.

I didn’t see a single other person besides the Canadian couple on the extension, though it was well marked and easy to follow. The three of us ended the day where the trail seemed to vertically scale a cliff with the trail signs blown down. After talking a bit, we decided to spend the night there by a lake and take a much easier to follow (not to mention safer) nearby dirt road back to the international highway in the morning.

Within a couple hours of waking up I was walking along the highway to a nearby rest stop, with raindrops starting to fall from the sky. Rather than walk the 11km (7 miles) along the highway to the closest village and wait six hours for a bus, I found a good spot and stuck my thumb out. Within 15 seconds a local had pulled over and said he’d give me a ride all the way back to Pucón, almost an hour away, if I agreed to speak English with him.

Looking back, I saw my companions just a few minutes down the roadand told him if he was willing to wait and take the three of us he could get even more English practice (the Canadians didn’t speak any Spanish). He agreed, and we hopped into his bus. The guy was very friendly, refused to take any pesos to help cover gas, and dropped us off in front of our hostel. Chile is wonderful!

La Región Patagonia

Maybe I shouldn’t write this as my hometown gets hammered by an ice storm, but at the moment I don’t really care: Uruguay and central Argentina were getting so damn hot and humid that upon arriving in Córdoba I immediately bought a bus ticket down south. Walking around during the middle of the day was unbearable and necessitated spending hours in air conditioned book cafes (admittedly what I was going to do anyways; I’ve finished six books in the past month).


This is usually what happens when my hometown gets more than a millimeter of snow.

My main memory of Córdoba was being a stupid gringo that lost the key to his padlock. Thankfully (or not, from a security standpoint) it only took the receptionist 7 seconds plus a hammer to break it open. I accidentally woke up my Scottish roommate during the process, who turned out to just be an American with a cold and not actually Scottish. He was also sleeping in some other guy’s bed due to a mixup in bunk assignments by the staff, which made for a very entertaining scene when he came back really drunk at 2am. As the only person in the room who spoke both English and Spanish, I translated the scene for the very startled Argentinian engineering student the next morning.


The quite comfortable cama ejecutiva seat on my 23 hour bus ride. The seat reclines 140 degrees or so.

The 23 hour bus ride to tiny Junín de los Andes was surprisingly nice, and I slept better than I did in the hostel. They did play some bizarre music videos, including one of an Argentinian guy dressed as Hitler in what appeared to be a Japanese video game. Argentina’s roads are pretty bad, so it was a little like being on a bumper car ride from the state fair, but other than that I can’t really complain about anything other than the disgustingly sweet food they handed out throughout the trip.

The main attraction of Junín is its proximity to Volcán Lanín National Park, where I was hoping to do some hikes around picturesque lakes under a volcano. The first woman at the tourist office seemed a little dense, but gave me maps and a bus timetable. When I went back to ask for a more detailed hiking map another worker looked aghast at what the first woman had written.

“There’s a weather alert in the park and it’s way too dangerous to go right now! Who the hell wrote all this on your map?!” She exclaimed as the perpetrator suddenly found something to do in the back of the office.

At the bus station, I inquired without success on available seats across the Andes to Chile. Desperate not to have to spend the next three days in this tiny town with the crazy homeless woman who kept glaring and growling at me all around the central plaza, I was able to procure tickets five hours south to El Bolsón via the picturesque Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Route of the Seven Lakes). And the next morning, after a relatively sleepless night while everyone in the local campground had a rave and blasted music until 4am, I watched the scenery change from desert to lush pine forests surrounded by snowcapped mountains.


Walking to the start of the hike.

El Bolsón is a pretty hippie-ish place and, after registering my trip with the local mountaineering office and procuring a map in the undying rain, I was largely set for spending some days in the mountain. The municipal campground was again noisy, with what seemed to be air raid sirens (I later learned it had to do with a fire) going off around midnight.

There’s a bus every hour or so to the start of the hike, but the weather had cleared when I awoke and so I opted to instead walk the 8km on unpaved farm roads. A dog from the village followed me most of the way, which caused the farm dogs to go berserk.


Drying out my tent next to the rickety old bridge of death.

After the rolling hills and farms, the trail began to climb. Mile for mile it was probably one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever done, ascending at a ridiculous rate for 10km. I did it in about 3 hours not including long breaks (I didn’t want to get to the end too early), which upon arriving at the Cerro Hielo Azul Hut I was told was impossible and should take over twice that time. I replied that I hiked 4400km from Mexico to Canada and spent two months hiking solo in the Arctic, which they didn’t seem to believe. One ranger asked me about the northern lights, and didn’t seem to understand that the farther you get from the equator the more light there is in summer (and thus you can’t really see them in summer, when I had about a  month of perpetual daylight). After this I pretty much didn’t listen to what they said.


Climbing the boulders up the mountain towards the glacier.

Camping is prohibited near El Bolsón except by mountain huts, which charge about $5 a night for you to put up your tent. The Hielo Azul Hut had flush toilets and a special shelter for campers with a stove for heat, which was quite nice in the higher altitude temperatures. I spent the evening chatting with Argentinians in the shelter, where they gave me peach marmelade and the tea-like drink mate. As a gringo that speaks Spanish, I get a lot of comments about how respectful it is to come to a country already speaking the local language. People here have been very friendly to me, and as practically the only foreigner I stand out.


View from the hill above the glacier, overlooking the valley where the Cerro Hielo Azul Hut is.

I awoke early the next morning to ascend the glacier, a popular day hike from the hut. The ranger didn’t want to let me go solo, but relented after I talked about wandering off into the Icelandic tundra by myself for days at a time. He said it would be a minimum of 3 hours round trip, not including time spent at the glacier, but I was able to return within 2 hours including some rests.


Selfie at the small glacier because I was the only one there. I didn’t see anybody going up, but ran into about 30 people while going back down.

During parts of the ascent I had some don’t look down and don’t fall, what the hell am I doing out here?! moments as it was fairly steep. Some parts I had to ascend using my hands amid loose scree. Looking back, I can definitely see how they don’t want people to go alone.

The steep climb on uneven, rocky terrain played hell on the muscles around my left knee. Still wanting to continue with my original plan, I downed two ibuprofen (aka Vitamin I on the Appalachian Trail) and was fine.


Hanging out in front of the Retamal Hut.

After a terrifying ascent and subsequent descent into the next valley, I decided to take a day off at the hut campgrounds. There are worse places to spend a sunny day than reading and resting one’s knees on a Patagonian riverbank. My Spanish sure got a workout, as all the chatty locals wanted to know what an American was doing in a popular Argentinian vacation spot.


Overlooking the river.


Path through the forest.

The end of the hike was very easy, and since I left the hut around 6:30am I didn’t see anybody until almost two hours later. A porteño (someone from Buenos Aires) social worker, his northeastern boyfriend, and I walked to the Wharton convenience store bus stop and asked around until we found out how to take the $2 bus back to the hippie village. They were interesting to talk to, and said that although Argentina legalized gay marriage a few years ago it still wasn’t that welcoming of a place outside of Buenos Aires. They had to go back north for work, and I was on my way to Chile, so we parted ways.


Heading down to catch the bus back to El Bolsón.

La República Oriental del Uruguay

I was a little disappointed with my Buenos Aires post, but after thinking it through I’m leaning towards the conclusion that it might’ve been because I was a little disappointed with Buenos Aires. It’s famed for being a mix between Madrid and a South American Paris, but having just spent 10 months in Madrid and almost a year and a half in Europe (with a couple long weekends in Paris) I don’t really see the connection.  

Disclaimer: I love Paris.

Maybe it’s the difference of having been a working resident of the European Union and a tourist in Buenos Aires, but if anything the dilapidated fleet of buses plying through the city’s crumbling streets and worn out buildings were more reminiscent of the former Yugoslav city of Podgorica than Paris. 

Which is not to say that I disliked Buenos Aires. To the contrary, I enjoyed its developing world feel. It’s just not European. In contrast, I found parts of Uruguay to be much more European. 

Map of the Eastern Republic of the Uruguay. Uruguay is an indigenous name, like Paraguay.

To escape the craziness and parties of Christmas in the big city, I bought passage on the 75 minute ferry across the estuary to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. Border control, done before boarding the passenger ferry, took about 60 seconds max. Definitely the easiest border checkpoint I’ve crossed. 

Quiet, leafy streets of Colonia.

A rural small town and popular weekend getaway from Buenos Aires and the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, Colonia doesn’t retain much evidence of its colonial roots from over 335 years ago. That being said, it was a terrific and tranquil place to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas and was a welcome respite from the big city. I’m not sure it’s worth a day trip unless you really want to add another country to your list and relax, but I loved it. 

Streets of the old town of Colonia.

The vast majority of visitors to Uruguay are from Brazil or Argentina, coming to enjoy the beaches (much better than those in Argentina, and cheaper than those in Brazil). That was definitely true of the hostel population in Colonia.

My Christmas card photo 2016.

After the festivities of Christmas (read: barbeques on the beach) I hopped on a four hour bus east to Montevideo, at 1.5 million home to half of the country’s population. 

The architecture and lifestyle in Montevideo was much more reminiscent of Madrid than Buenos Aires, with no restaurants opening before the ungodly early hour of 8pm. 

The sign instructs visitors to not swim in the empty fountain.

Like its neighbor to the south, and also former colonizer, the diet is heavy on meat. It’s also surprisingly progressive with gay marriage, recreational marijuana, and government funded abortions both legal and largely noncontroversial. The live and let live outlook, informal friendliness of the locals, and “don’t worry about it” attitude reminded me a lot of Spain. Though the latter may be because the Uruguayans seem to always be stoned. 

The hostel in Montevideo had a really great vibe, and a backyard that was very cool on the hot summer days (getting up to 90F/32C). One of the volunteers there said she left school to travel and wished women would be added to the draft in the hopes of her one day being able to burn a draft card, and I knew I was in for a nice 60s-style hippie retreat. 

The hostel owner cooking the most amazing barbecue I’d ever had.

During the days I roamed the streets of Montevideo, and at night we’d gather in the backyard and chat. Mentally, it was nice to vent with others about how annoying it is in the US to constantly hear:

  • How do you pay for these trips? Once you’ve got the airplane ticket, places like Ukraine, rural Ethiopia, and camping in Arctic Sweden while eating noodles can be quite affordable. 
  • When are you going to get a real job? Usually this is after the asker tells me about how he hates his job and life. 
  • The world is just so dangerous nowadays. Stop watching American cable news. 
  • Why would you go anyplace else if you can see anything you want here? No. 

And, as one of the other Americans noted, it’s nice for foreigners to get a view of the US that’s not blind nationalism, loud proclamations of being the greatest country in the world, and denial of atrocities we’ve committed. 

Camping out an a river island in rural Uruguay with a bunch of party hard alcoholic locals. This tent got me through the Pacific Crest Trail, two months in the Arctic, and has served me quite well.

To escape the New Year’s celebrations, I headed northwest to the swelteringly hot and humid rural town of Mercedes. Having visited largely because they had a campground and to see more of rural Uruguay, I kind of regretted my decision when campers drunkenly blasted reggaeton at ear destroying decibels from 7pm until 11am. But that’s what you get from a $3 a night campground. The elderly Uruguayan men laying in the park were quite friendly, and I joined them while we collectively tried to not die of heat exhaustion. 

Tits: an upscale women’s clothing store in Uruguay’s capital city.

Finally escaping Mercedes, I headed to Paysandú on the Uruguay River. A border town, I had heard it was an interesting cultural city to visit. That may be true, but the oppressive heat and rain kept me from exploring too much on my 11 hour wait for an overnight bus to Córdoba, Argentina. The bus terminal was very comfortable and air conditioned, and the chipper (and presumably unbearably bored) tourist office woman kept me company. 

I did get asked to not eat on the floor while I charged my phone in a corner outlet, but the security guard was chill about it.